Who were 69 people that changed South Africa?
For this years Human Rights Day article, we will look at its history, its influence or impact and how we can celebrate it.
For the past years, South Africa as a nation has celebrated the 21st of March as Human Rights Day. However, this honorary public holiday stems back to 59 years ago at the police station in the South African Township of Sharpeville in Transvaal (today part of Gauteng).
Human Rights are recognized and enforced in all countries all over the world. There was a universal declaration of Human Rights after the Second World war on the 10th of December 1948 by the UN General Assembly. What did this mean for South Africa?
At this time, the apartheid system which was a policy of strict racial segregation was just introduced. Did this policy align with the Declaration of Human Rights?
To further answer this question, lets look at what exactly Human Rights are and how they influenced the Sharpeville Massacre.
“Right to life”
A simple and yet a demanding sentence.
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
The 1948 universal rights based them humanity, freedom, justice and peace. In South Africa, they are entrenched in the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution and they include the right to life, equality and human dignity.
The 7000 protestors
Imagine living in a society where failure to carry a little book detailing your name and origin would result to your arrest.
This internal passport resulted from the Pass laws that entitled police at any time to demand that Africans show them a properly endorsed document or face arrest which limited their freedom of movement.
On the 21st of March 1960, 7000 protesters peacefully demonstrated outside the police station against this passbook. The police later started shooting killing 69 people and injuring 180 others. Most of the injured people later died, suffered from paralysis and obtained major injuries.
“I survived by lying flat on the ground…”
“We can forgive, but we can not forget”
This event is regarded as one of the most triggering events in South Africa because it showed the world the extent apartheid had on its citizens. The lack of basic rights such as freedom of movement or speech and the non-existent relationship between the police and the people.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regards the 21st of March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The Sharpeville demonstration was influenced by women in 1956 who protested against the racist Pass laws, when 20 000 women marched to the Union Building in Pretoria, singing “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo meaning “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.
How you can celebrate today
Considering the recent self-quarantine measures to control the spread of COVID-19, here are some things you can do today.
- Research more about Human Rights Day and how it has shaped South Africa and the rest of the world
- Educate someone about the rights they have
- Learn about the rights not recognized or limited in other countries
- Learn about your family’s history
It is important to note that Human Rights Day is not only about the Sharpeville Massacre, it is about reflecting on our rights, protecting them from violation irrespective of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and to remind each other that they apply to everyone citizen or not.
Its also to remind us to remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and violence against women, children, and the aged.
To conclude, Human Rights Day is one of the most important days in South Africa. The 21st of March made history and encouraged our independence which has brough us where we are today. Remember to reflect on your rights and learn more about them.
Wishing you a happy Human Rights Day from MadibazNews!